Sons & Mothers

Director Christopher Houghton delivered one of the local highlights at last year’s Adelaide Film Festival with his brilliant documentary Sons & Mothers. Long-listed for a Walkley Best Documentary, the film is about to screen on the ABC.

Director Christopher Houghton delivered one of the local highlights at last year’s Adelaide Film Festival with his brilliant documentary Sons & Mothers. Long-listed for a Walkley Best Documentary, the film is about to screen on the ABC. Houghton, whose Matt Day-starring feature thriller Touch will be released next year, says his documentary about No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability’s Men’s Ensemble is gearing up for a suite of film festival screenings at the end of this year. “We’re in competition at the Antenna Film Festival in October and The Other Film Festival in Melbourne in December; we’re premiering internationally soon – in Switzerland,” says Houghton. Sons & Mothers, which screens at 10.15pm on ABC on Sunday, October 19, was completed over two-and-a-half years and focusses on the production of the Men’s Ensemble’s acclaimed stage show of the same name (Sons & Mothers), an Adelaide Fringe award-winning production (including Best Theatre). Prior to filming, Houghton was invited to have a look at the Men’s Ensemble and was blown away by the group. “I noticed that every time I left [the company] I felt a bit lighter and I thought, ‘What’s that about?’ There was a real sense of community and sense of humour and their craft is just fantastic. I just thought it was a really good story that needed to be told.” Houghton started researching other films about disability and was frustrated that most of the films focussed the narrative away from people with disabilities. “It was all about the condition and not about the person,” he says, as films tended to focus on the people surrounding the disabilities including family members and medical staff. Though it does feature a supporting cast, what makes Sons & Mothers shine is its focus on the seven members of the Men’s Ensemble. Their journey through this production, as they discuss the crust of the show – love letters to their mothers – is moving, humorous and makes for a rich documentary experience. When you watch, as Houghton correctly points out, the last thing you notice or focus on is their disability. Because of this, Houghton decided to shoot 85 percent of the film in close-up to show the voice of his subjects. “I started out as a photographer, so I have a great belief in the power of image and the power of portrait and the human face. I thought if I can get people to engage in this then they’re not going to focus on disability either. That’s by and large the reaction we’ve had to the film – people are amazed and really warmed by the personalities of the guys on the screen. We don’t mention disability unless they do and to this day, it took two-and-a half years to make this film, I couldn’t tell you what any of them has as a clinical condition. “The guys are the strength of it [the film], definitely. What I find really interesting is just how when you’ve got an audience, because it’s an ensemble piece, you get to know the seven guys well but different members of the audience will resonate with different stories. I’m always fascinated watching it with an audience for that reason alone because you have people who will tear up with one character or they’ll laugh with another one. I guess it all comes back to your personal story, really, and it seems to be that everybody has something to relate to in this film.” Next year, Houghton will follow his impressive documentary with the intriguing feature film Touch, which he calls a “hybrid thriller”. “In some ways it’s what I call a domestic thriller in that it’s not cops and bad guys. It’s kind of a thriller about the human capacity for love, and it deals with themes of love and loss, and the metaphysical space between the two, without giving too much away.” Sons & Mothers screens on the ABC on Sunday, October 19 (10.15pm) sonsandmothers.com nostringsattached.org.au/sons-and-mothers-2013.html Sons & mothers – TRAILER from POP on Vimeo.